In retrospect, it’s a bit surprising that the Japanese automobile invasion wasn’t more fully anticipated. Given how Japanese manufacturers totally overran the camera, small electronics and motorcycle industries, the Big Three should have just liquidated themselves while they could still get good prices for their assets.
Ok; that wasn’t likely. But the Japanese turned the motorcycle industry on its head, essentially destroying the British makers and nearly so Harley Davidson. And this is the bike that led the charge: Honda’s biggest bike when they launched their invasion of America in 1959. Yes, it could only have been a dream at the time for Soichiro Honda, but it quickly became a nightmare for everyone else.
As compelling as it is, we’re not going to do a proper history of Honda today. But things always happened quickly at the Honda of yore, when that restless man was running the show. Only nine years passed between his 1947 Model A, a motor-assisted bicycle, to the first C70 Dream. That Model A used a war-surplus two-stroke engine, and Honda hated its smoky ways, which motivated him to become the ultimate master of the small four stroke engine.
By 1953, Honda’s Benley (1953 shown) series of single-cylinder four strokes were rolling out of his factory. The learning curve was steep, as the first models had issues of one kind or another. But those were soon mastered, and ever better and faster Benleys emerged.
The next step was a larger bike, a twin, no less. The result was the 1956 C70 Dream 250. It was the first high-powered twin in its class, which was dominated by single cylinder engines. Its 18+ hp was made at the then-almost unheard of 7400 rpm. Everyone assumed that such a high revving engine would never last in a street bike. They didn’t know Honda.
Admittedly, the basic configuration (except for the twin cylinder engine) was inspired by the NSU Supermax, which Honda had seen on his seminal trip to Europe in 1955. But it wasn’t just the revolutionary OHC engine that made the Honda Dream unique; it was also its styling.
Honda led the styling design effort, and worked with clay models. He came up with the angular design motif, which he called the “Buddhist temple” style. Honda knew that in pushing exports, his bikes would be representing his country, so he took of ten days from work and visited the ancient temples of Nara and Kyoto.
Sachi Honda was the only person to accompany her husband on this trip. She remembered:
“As usual, he didn’t give a word of explanation about why we were going. Day after day, we visited Buddhist temples. One day, when we were at Sanzen-in temple in the Ohara area of Kyoto, he stopped still in front of a certain image of the Buddha. He didn’t move, even when the temple visiting hours were over. He was so absorbed in it that one of the priests brought a flashlight so he could see it better. When I asked him why he had been looking at it that way, he just said to me, ‘It has nothing to do with you.’ Later, though, I found out what it was all about.”
Mr. Honda himself said:
“I designed the lines on the side of the Dream C70 gas tank with a picture in my mind of the curve from the eyebrow to the nose on a figure of the Buddha.”
It wasn’t just the angular design of body; the engine’s visual design was a masterpiece, and one that outlasted the Dream. It became the model for all of Honda’s future twins for quite some time.
The Italian motorcycle manufacturer Laverda faithfully scaled up and copied the dream’s engine for its 750 bikes in the 70s. Not that it bought them much time.
The Dream was of course a period piece, straight out of the heart of the 50s. it was sold in several series with variations until the mid-late 60s.
But by then it had long been overshadowed by Honda’s next act, the one that really put it on the world’s center stage. The CB77 305 Super Hawk with an engine clearly derived from the Dream, now sported 28 hp at 9,000 rpm, fast enough to top 100 mph. Although it had half the displacement, it was putting serious pressure on the vaunted vertical twins from Great Britain, and at a significantly lower price. Never mind the lack of oil leaks and other endless maladies.
Although the Dream 305 had 23 to 25 hp depending on the model, and a top speed of some 84 mph, in today’s world these are petite bikes, and best suited for a leisurely summer evening cruise, as this one was undoubtedly doing when I caught it in front of a restaurant in downtown Eugene.
Just the thing for a mid-summer nights dream ride.